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  • The San Juan Daily Star

A cruel death in Hebron


By Bret Stephens


Because it’s unlikely that his name will be publicly remembered for long, it’s worth pausing to consider the grisly murder of Ahmad Abu Murkhiyeh in the West Bank city of Hebron. Every murder is an outrage and a tragedy, and many murders involve a larger story. In this case, it’s one that too few people are willing to tell.


Murkhiyeh (some news accounts transliterate his surname as Marhia) was a 25-year-old gay Palestinian man who had been living for two years in Israel and had filed papers for resettlement in Canada. An acquaintance, Natali Farah, described him to the newspaper Haaretz as “a pleasant and sensitive guy, always appreciative and grateful. He had goals he sought to achieve in life, he found a good job and it seemed like it was all going to work out for him.”


Last Wednesday, he was found beheaded in Hebron. A suspect, now in the custody of the Palestinian Authority police, filmed the beheading and uploaded it to Palestinian social media, according to a report from The Times of Israel.


As with many murders, details of the case remain unclear. A relative told a Palestinian radio station that Murkhiyeh had been living in Jordan and routinely came home for visits. No motive has been established for the killing, and it’s unclear whether the suspect knew the victim.


Other facts are better established. Rita Petrenko, founder of Al-Bayt-Al-Mukhtalif, an Israeli group that works on behalf of the Arab LGBTQ community, told The Associated Press that she had helped with Murkhiyeh’s resettlement papers and that his stays at LGBTQ shelters in Israel were well documented. Farah reported that Murkhiyeh had been threatened on the phone and had changed his number. Friends of Murkhiyeh attended a memorial in his honor on the Tel Aviv boardwalk. At the time of his death, Murkhiyeh was one of scores of gay Palestinians finding refuge in Israel.


Then there is the other side of the coin. A Palestinian radio presenter denounced the murder for crossing “every single red line in our society, whether in terms of morals, customs or basic humanity.” That’s heartening to hear, but it isn’t true.


In 2016, The New York Times’ Diaa Hadid and Majd Al Waheidi reported from Gaza City on the gruesome torture and execution of Mahmoud Ishtiwi. Ishtiwi was a Hamas commander whose leaders suspected him of embezzlement and “moral turpitude” — having sex with men — raising additional fears that he might have spied for Israel.


“Relatives said Mr. Ishtiwi had told them he had been suspended from a ceiling for hours on end, for days in a row,” Hadid and Al Waheidi reported. “He was whipped, and guards blasted loud music into his cell, banishing sleep.” He was later shot with three bullets to his chest.


This was part of an old and awful pattern. In 2002, in The New Republic, Israeli writer Yossi Klein Halevi wrote about the plight of gay Palestinians with stories similar to Murkhiyeh’s, men who had taken refuge in Israel because it was the only place where their lives wouldn’t be in jeopardy.


“A gardener we’ll call Samir, who had fled the territories for Israel, told me of a gay friend who was a member of the Palestinian police and ran away to Tel Aviv,” Halevi wrote. Then, quoting Samir: “‘After a while he returned to Nablus, where he was arrested by the Palestinian police and accused of being a collaborator. They put him in a pit. It was the fast of Ramadan, and they decided to make him fast the whole month but without any break at night. They denied him food and water until he died in that hole.’”


The bigotry is, as they say, systemic. In 2019, the Palestinian Authority banned organized LGBTQ activities; a Palestinian police spokesperson called them “harmful to the higher values and ideals of Palestinian society.” The ban was later rescinded, but it says something that the Al-Qaws Foundation, which campaigns for gay rights for Palestinians, has its offices in Israel.


In recent years, it’s become the fashion of many of Israel’s vehement critics to accuse Israel’s supporters of “pinkwashing” — that is, of using the Jewish state’s pathbreaking record of promoting and protecting gay rights over many years as a cloak to obscure its various purported sins.


But there’s another word to describe the reluctance, bordering on willful blindness, of too many advocates of Palestinian statehood to call attention to the prejudice and brutality that confront gay Palestinians. It’s called whitewashing. Whitewashing is also the word that goes for the broad indifference in pro-Palestinian circles to Hamas’ tyrannical rule in Gaza, or to the Palestinian Authority’s murder of its domestic political critics like Nizar Banat, or to the elimination of any semblance of democracy under the petty despotism of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.


Those who claim to champion the cause of Palestinian liberation, as a movement of national self-determination, should care equally about the cause of Palestinian liberties, as a basis for decent governance.

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